Author: Douglas Kennedy 
Hachette RRP $29.95
Review: Monique Mulligan 

Five Days, Douglas KennedyFive Days by Douglas Kennedy explores the question: How long does it take to fall in love? I asked Google and came up with a long list of sites that purposed to answer this question including “13 Scientifically Proven Signs You’re in Love”, which sounded not unlike a women’s magazine article that I would have read at 16. One link caught my eye: an article on The Naked Scientists’ site (no, it’s not that kind of site – it really is about science), it looked at research findings on this very question. Click here for the full article, but here’s the interesting bit:

… psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania in America have been investigating the phenomenon of speed-dating. After studying over 10,000 speed-daters they’ve come up with some surprising results. Some people say they’re looking for one kind of person, then choose another. Other people say that don’t even know what they’re looking for. But the researchers found that, however it happens, people know love – and spot it quickly – when they see it.

While this is food for thought, so too is Five Days, which I reviewed as part of a blog tour arranged by Random House Australia. Having read nothing by Kennedy before this (an oversight I will most certainly remedy soon), it was the blurb rather than the author that piqued my interest (read the blurb on my most recent Teaser Tuesday post). What I discovered once I started reading was a moving, thoughtful and beautiful love story that is a little undervalued by the publisher’s description “American love story” – in my eyes, this is a story for people everywhere. It’s one for anyone who loves or has ever loved.

Laura, a radiologist technician, has been married for twenty-one years. She’s been a good wife, a good mother, but recently, she’s started to wonder what happened to the part of her that she’s kept buried for all these years. What happened to the young woman with dreams and endless possibilities? There’s a poignant quote that sums up this realisation, one that struck a chord in me and is bound to in others:

Is this what happens when, over the years, you’ve forced yourself to play a role that you privately know runs contrary to your true nature; when the mask you’ve worn for so long no longer fits and begins to hang lopsidedly, and you fear people are going to finally glimpse the sacred part of you that you have so assiduously kept out of view?

This thought, so early on in the novel, foreshadows what is to come. Laura’s husband has been out of work for twenty-one months and the redundancy has hit him hard. Laura is finding it harder and harder to read him – his moods are unpredictable and he is quick to take offense. As Laura reflects on his “cancer of unhappiness”, she wonders if she too is harbouring a cancer of sorts, perhaps one of “despair”; however, Laura is used to putting on a brave face, so unless something big happens, nothing is likely to change. When the opportunity to go to Boston for a medical conference arises, Laura takes it; perhaps those five days will be good for her, she reasons. Good for her marriage, too: absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.

While she’s waiting to check in, she meets a man, and they banter, a “conversational give-and-take” that borders on flirtation. It ends abruptly and Laura later reflects on this, feeling a strange mix of petulance and guilt. It’s not like her to behave like this … and yet, it was clear that the man, Richard, was just as awkward as she. But something about his clear intelligence has resonated with her. Their short, harmless discourse was intelligent, laden with “big words” and literary references. When they meet again, unexpectedly, she is struck by the fact that like her, he seems “just a little ill at ease” with his place in the world. It’s like that lightbulb moment when you think, “He/she really gets me”. The days that follow this meeting remind Laura of the woman she used to be; suddenly, possibilities open up and the life she once wanted seems within her grasp once more. Should she pursue the promise of happiness, or continue down the road already chosen?

I loved this book. At first it seemed a little slow, but then phrases leaped out at me … I was sucked in by the depth of the prose long before Laura met Richard in that hotel lobby. All of a sudden I was half-way through, and then, I was at a point where I simply could not stop reading. It was a late night … but every minute of lost sleep. I also discovered one of the benefits of the Kindle, which is being able to highlight quotes and passages without ruining the book. I did a lot of highlighting, so it’s pretty obvious that this book had a lot to say to me.

Five Days is a love story. But I don’t want to talk about that, other than to say that it’s a beautiful, bittersweet story that you can probably tell by the title is all about timing. Enough said – any more would spoil it. What really spoke to me, aside from the love story, was the concept of change and how hard it can be for us to change once we’ve chosen a path. How people change whether due to time or significant events, how people resist change, and how people resist or sabotage change even though they may want it desperately. And what of those who do change? What do others think of that? How do they judge those people? Should they? Lots to think about when you get on this track.

During a discussion, Richard tells Laura that “the sort of writing I like most deals with the heart of the matter, the everyday stuff of life”. So do I. Aside from the compelling and profound prose, that’s what I loved most about this book – the fact that it deals with the heart of the matter … and comes from the heart. I admit I did wonder whether Kennedy could write from a female perspective and really get it. I shouldn’t have – forgive me, for as I said, this was my intro to his work – he nailed it. Five Days is intelligent, heartfelt and perceptive; I will read this again.

Available from good bookstores and Random House. This copy was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley.

Bookish treat: Salted caramel popcorn. Sweet at first bite and then the saltiness kicks in.



Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

0 Responses

  1. I have not read this yet, but have all his others.From what you say; YOU WILL LOVE Kennedy’s ‘The Moment’.

      1. ”…how people resist or sabotage change even though they may want it desperately.” (Your words)

        Though he is, like me, a History graduate fascinated with Cold War- era enclaved West Berlin, Kennedy is NOT trying to write wannabe- Le Carre. Even though it reads in parts just like a Checkpoint Charlie thriller. He is far too smart than to think he could do that. Unlike Le Carre, he was not ‘there’: he was never a spy/ soldier/ diplomat. He even indirectly mocks the idea that he could write that sort of thing when his lead character (a 26 year- old one- time published travel book writer) is asked to write his first impressions of East Berlin. They are meant for broadcast to listeners there on the CIA’s Radio Liberty. He is told to re- draft it as East Berliners don’t need to hear his ‘sub- Le Carre’ drivel; they live in it.

        This is what is so unique about Douglas Kennedy be it ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ (McCarthy- era New York City) or ‘State of The Union’ (Late ’60’s radicals & Bush- era U.S.A) he is NOT merely trying to mine a historical time and place that fascinates him for dramatic possibilities (unlike many authors). Nor is he trying to be didactic about an era, or about the study of History in general. (Though these are honourable goals.) Rather, I think, Kennedy tries to use his historical places and times to explore timeless things about life and human nature. Does the past always catch up with you? In his ‘historical’ novels we always start in the present day then are taken back to the past only to taken home to the present day, often with a change of narrator along the way. In this wat we can see how chance actions or ommisssions in the past can reverberate for decades, and how the present is shaped by the past. In the case of ‘The Moment’, I think, Kennedy is trying to use his knowledge of divided Berlin, with its powerful metaphor of The Wall as a way to explore how we hem ourselves in: how we bastardise our own chances of happiness.

        You read ‘The Moment’ and I’ll read ‘Five Days’ as soon as I can lay hands on a copy. I would love to know your thoughts. ( I cannot understand why he is not a cult figure among the speakers of his mother tongue. His oft- ignored and underrated early novel ‘The Big Picture’ is a film, in French.

        ‘ We’re all so proposterous, aren’t we. Holding onto our traumas, our agonies, our small dramas ans using them to sabotage that which we so want, and actually deserve. ‘ (Petra Dussman in ‘The Moment’- quoted (im)perfectly from my memory.)

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